If you spend more than five minutes talking to Stathy Stathopoulos, you’ll quickly realize his passion for bringing something new to the Savannah community runs deeper than the authentic imported Greek olives, feta cheese and pastries he sells at Yia Yia’s Kitchen on Habersham Street.
Since opening the kitchen in 2014, Stathopoulos has made an effort to connect with local schools and organizations. Currently the kitchen sponsors events with the Ronald McDonald House, Marsh Point Elementary and Charles Ellis Montessori Academy.
“We try to be active with children,” he said, something that has grown from his involvement with the Shriners — he’s been a member for more than 30 years.
“Having been involved with (Shriners) for so many years it’s always been a passion. There is so much done for other organizations, but my thing has always been helping kids.”
Stathopoulos also hopes to provide a place for Ardsley Park residents to host community and crime prevention meetings to try to bring the community together.
“We’re one of the only businesses here in Ardsley, and we’re trying to be neighborhood friendly and have activities,” he said, adding that he would like to have special days for police officers and other public servants.
“So many things are reactive, and with everything moving forward with the city, we’re trying to grow and expand to where we can be more, too.”
Stathopoulos opened the kitchen after working at the Savannah Greek Festival and hearing attendees talk about the need for Greek food and products year-round. The kitchen imports a lot of their items fresh from Hellas Bakery and Restaurant in Tarpon Springs, Fla., along with authentic pita bread, olive oils and feta cheese straight from Greece.
While most people think they’ve had real Greek yogurt or feta cheese, Stathopoulos said it’s not the good stuff. The difference is in the taste, he said.
This year Stathopoulos took that authentic taste and dozens of new products to the festival, where he and his team were in charge of the Greek Store.
It turned out to be one of the most successful years for the store with half of the proceeds going back to the festival and half to benefit youth activities at the church.
“With budgets, sometimes the youth things tend to get whacked, so one of my big things was donating half of the profits to the youth,” he said.
The kitchen is working to expand with the addition of a neighborhood style deli into the adjacent building that most recently housed Ma’s Food Mart.
Once opened, the new market place will sell deli meats, sandwiches, cheeses and a wide assortment of other authentic Greek and Mediterranean products, including a variety of imported beers and wines and their signature sweet tea, which is blended with Greek chamomile.
They’re also in discussion with TailsSpin to feature some of the pet store’s products in the market.
Stathopoulos had hoped to open the new addition in late October, but he hit a few snags with various city inspections. Now he’s optimistic the project will be wrapping up soon after the new year.
“I’m a glass half-full guy... It’s one of those things where you just have to keep pushing, but what drives me is trying to do something positive for the neighborhood,” he said.
“So many businesses can just throw money at things and say, just go away, but my philosophy is be involved. You don’t have to throw money; you just have to be involved. Show your face and be active because there is so much more you can do besides just giving money.”
Stathopoulos doesn’t do it alone. He’s quick to give most of the credit to his four employees, who he said are always serving with a smile.
“We strive so much to have that customer service, and it’s a dying art now with so many businesses,” he said.
“That little bit of friendliness and trying to go the extra mile, it goes a long way... People come in, and we greet them with a smile. You’ve got to take a positive approach and just try to give them a nice experience.”
ABOUT THE SERIES
As 2015 comes to a close, the Savannah Morning News, Business in Savannah and savannahnow.com continue the tradition of profiling companies and organizations that made major contributions to the local business environment during the past year.
The Business in Savannah staff chose the honorees from a list of nominees submitted by local business and community members, utilizing broad criteria — from growth and success to philanthropy and community involvement.
Thursday: Newcomer of the year
Friday: Manufacturer of the year
Saturday: Business advocate of the year
Sunday: Entrepreneurial business of the year
Today: Retail business of the year
Wednesday: Small business of the year